The Smart Hotel Elite Strategy for Most Travelers

Less-frequent travelers shouldn't waste money aiming for elite status. They can buy the perks for cheaper.
Dan MillerDec 10, 2020

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Hotel loyalty programs offer elite status to their best customers as a way to keep them, well ... loyal. Members enjoy unique perks like free upgrades and bonus points earning opportunities.

For business travelers who stay 50+ nights a year in hotels, it makes sense to strive for elite status. They may opt to favor one hotel group and maybe even get a hotel-branded credit card. But is the same true for casual travelers and vacationing families?

Here’s a look at why some less-frequent travelers shouldn’t strive for elite hotel status. Instead, we discuss ways to more effectively maximize loyalty programs.

How hotel elite status works

Hotel loyalty programs typically have different elite levels, including an entry-level tier that is usually free to join. In fact, simply joining a hotel’s loyalty program can get you a few minor perks. But the rewards and benefits increase as you move to higher status "elite" levels.

So how do you move up the ranks? Getting to a higher status level usually requires a certain number of stays or nights each year.

Once you've leveled up, your newly minted elite status can come with perks like:

  • Free breakfast or executive lounge access.

  • Room and suite upgrades.

  • More points earned per dollar spent at hotels.

  • Waived resort, parking, Wi-Fi and other fees.

The best hotel elite strategy for casual travelers

Chasing hotel elite status can become a bit of a hamster wheel: You like the rewards and perks of elite status, so you keep staying with your preferred hotel brand. But then, you find that you’re a few nights short of requalifying for status for another year. So you go out of your way to book additional stays — possibly even paying for hotel nights you don’t even need.

For most casual travelers, chasing after hotel elite status is a losing proposition. It takes a lot of time, money and energy, not to mention it isn't guaranteed. Why not put that money toward purchasing the perks that are most important to you instead?

Chances are that some elite status perks matter more to you than others. Rather than pursuing the "whole package" by trying to earn status, spend a fraction on the things you want — be it breakfast, room upgrades, Wi-Fi or other amenities. This a la carte strategy will often pencil out better for casual travelers than spending the money chasing elite status.

Nerdy tip: Not being tied down to one loyalty program means that you can chase the best deals instead of paying more to stay with your preferred chain.

More tips for getting status or benefits

Use hotel cards to access elite perks

For casual travelers, hotel-branded cards can bring some perks of elite status without requiring you to spend large chunks of the year sleeping in hotels. Some cards to consider:

There are other cards that offer lesser status, like Hilton or Marriott Silver, but the limited perks mean these low status levels aren’t worth much to the occasional traveler.

Stay at hotels that offer suites

Elite status is designed mainly for business travelers and road warriors, but there’s a benefit for families too: the chance to get a suite instead of a standard hotel room. When traveling with kids, having a separate room can make a huge difference in your quality of stay. Having status from credit cards could allow your family to get a complimentary upgrade to a two-bedroom suite.

Alternatively, non-elite family travelers can join loyalty programs with hotel brands that focus on suites and book stays there. This allows you to experience the suite life, without chasing elite status. Some brands include:

The bottom line

Hotel elite status sounds great, but it’s not worth it for everyone. If you’re an occasional traveler who won’t get much use out of the perks — especially perks like accelerated points earnings on future stays — don’t go out of your way to earn elite status.

Instead, pay out of pocket for the perks you want, forget about the ones you don’t and consider signing up for a credit card that will get you some perks without all the work of earning the status.

All information about the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card has been collected independently by NerdWallet. The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is no longer available through NerdWallet.


How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:

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